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Alexander Pivovarenko

Ph.D. in History, Senior Research Associate, RAS Institute of Slavonic Studies, RIAC Expert

Presidential elections were held in Croatia from December 28, 2014 to January 11, 2015. Four candidates contested the election. Unsurprisingly, the initial favourites were the leaders of the main political powers, which have held power in turn for the past 15 years, namely Ivo Josipovic, leader of the ruling Social Democratic Party, and Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic of the Croatian Democratic Union. In the run-off, Kolinda Grabar-Kitaroviс won by the slimmest of margins (1.46 per cent, or just32,000 votes). Here are some of the most interesting results of the poll.

Presidential elections were held in Croatia from December 28, 2014 to January 11, 2015. Here are some of the most interesting results of the poll.

New Faces and Old Trends

A distinctive feature of these elections was that the turnout was comparable to previous years (47.12 per centin the first round and 59.06 per cent in the run-off) (in Croatian), despite the fact that they took place against the background of serious social and economic difficulties. The country has been in recession since 2008, unemployment (including among the youth) stands at 18 per cent and wages are below the European average.

Four candidates contested the election. Unsurprisingly, the initial favourites were the leaders of the main political powers, which have held power in turn for the past 15 years, namely Ivo Josipovic, leader of the ruling Social Democratic Party (SPD), and Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ).

D. Matic / Cropix
It is amazing that Sincic’s campaign (16.42 per
cent of the votes, 293,000) fund was a mere
11,000 euros, which is 59 times less than
the biggest fund

As expected, both made it to the second round. However, in the first round it was a third candidate who stole the show – Ivan Sincic of the Human Blockade youth movement, who won a sensational 16.42 per cent of the votes (293,000). Sincic (born in 1990) stole the limelight with his vivid and convincing anti-establishment rhetoric, blaming all his opponents for the country’s economic degradation, its loss of political and monetary sovereignty, and the lack of real political choice. “I am shocked by the scale of political demagogy I’ve seen here. You were all in the government and members of the parties which have destroyed my country.” These words, uttered during the debates and widely quoted in the media inside and outside the country, characterize Sincic’s political platform and the sentiments of his electorate. It is amazing that Sincic’s campaign fund was a mere 11,000 euros, which is 59 times less than the biggest fund (Ivo Josipovic, 704,000 euros). (in Croatian). The result was an unqualified success for the young candidate and a good springboard for a political career. Observers have noted the emergence in Croatia of a protest electorate that is becoming ever more sceptical of the rhetoric of the leading politicians and which takes an increasingly pessimistic view of the country’s future.

In the run-off, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic(HDZ) won by the slimmest of margins (1.46 per cent, or just32,000 votes). Interestingly, at the beginning of the year her approval rating was just over 17.4 per cent, in Croatian), while the incumbent president, Josipovic, enjoyed a 54 per cent rating. Public opinion changed dramatically in less than a year. The reasons for this include economic crisis, the tarnished image of the ruling coalition leaders (including Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic) as a result of some headline-making events (the government’s attempt to bring back Cyrillic writing in some eastern counties, the condemnation of the referendum on sealing the traditional definition of family relationships in the constitution), the Social Democrats’ wobbly position on the problem of the “third entity” for Bosnian Croats against the background of unrest in that republic in February 2014.

An Historic Moment

Several observations are in order. First, Ivo Josipovic is the first Croatian president to serve a single term. The country’s first leader, Franjo Tudjman, (1990–1999) remained president until his death and the second president, Stjepan Mesic (2000–2010) served two full terms. Second, this will represent the first time that Croatia, which is a parliamentary republic, has shared power between the president (HDZ) and parliament (SDP-led coalition). That is a game-changer compared to previous years, when the president and parliament were united in seeking to achieve national goals (the fight for independence, democratisation, joining NATO and the European Union). Now that the country’s geopolitical agenda is in place, the political parties increasingly have to resort to demagogy to win votes.

spectrumasa.com
We cannot ignore reports about the discovery of
major oil and gas fields off the Adriatic coast
which are thought to be comparable to those
of Norway.

Third, for the first time in 15 years a representative of the Croatian Democratic Union has become president. Ms. Grabar-Kitarovic becomes a successor of Franjo Tudjman, the architect of the modern Croatian state and one of the main protagonists in the Balkan events in the 1990s. She is thus faced with an image challenge and must deal with a flare-up of Croatian nationalism in certain problem regions in the east of the country, Vojvodina, Istria peninsula and the Croatian part of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Outlook

Croatia has thus become part of the common European trend, with growing social and economic problems increasing the popularity of right-wing ideas. However, unlike other countries, where the rise of the political right is accompanied by moderate Euro-scepticism and demonstrations, Croatia, which only recently joined the European Union, is likely to continue in the coming years to demonstrate loyalty to the supra-national institutions. This is evidenced by the traditionally pro-American and pro-German orientation of the HDZ, the brilliant track record of Ms. Grabar-Kitarovic, who was ambassador to the United States and Deputy Secretary General of NATO (the first woman ever to hold the post), and the importance of Croatia for oil and gas transit to Western Europe and military transit to Eastern Europe, the Middle East and other regions.

While on the subject of oil and gas, we cannot ignore reports about the discovery of major oil and gas fields off the Adriatic coast which are thought to be comparable to those of Norway. The government issued the first ten licenses for geological exploration early this year, with still bigger contracts to be signed in March 2015. The involvement of major oil and gas companies against the backdrop of dual power and the public debate on environmental damage to the region may become an important internal political issue, at least until the parliamentary elections, which are due to be held late this year.

As regards Russia–Croatia relations, no rapprochement is in the offing if one considers the poor economic links, the failure of investment projects (most recently the South Stream) and the fact that Zagreb is toeing the Brussels line on the issue of the Ukrainian crisis. The new president’s Euro-Atlantic orientation was clearly expressed in her numerous campaign speeches. Given that Vesna Pusic, who holds liberal-democratic views, remains the country’s foreign minister it is unlikely that there will be a meeting of minds on the Russian issue. The only sphere free of political friction is tourism, as well as small and medium-sized businesses that have not been affected by the sanctions.

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Poll conducted

  1. Korean Peninsula Crisis Has no Military Solution. How Can It Be Solved?
    Demilitarization of the region based on Russia-China "Dual Freeze" proposal  
     36 (35%)
    Restoring multilateral negotiation process without any preliminary conditions  
     27 (26%)
    While the situation benefits Kim Jong-un's and Trump's domestic agenda, there will be no solution  
     22 (21%)
    Armed conflict still cannot be avoided  
     12 (12%)
    Stonger deterrence on behalf of the U.S. through modernization of military infrastructure in the region  
     4 (4%)
    Toughening economic sanctions against North Korea  
     2 (2%)
 
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